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President Trump's political success has attracted a curious cast of cheerleaders abroad.

You know about the European ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists who yoke their political struggles to his right-wing populism. But there's another motley group that warms to his presidency because of the radical departure it represents from what came before. Their collective backing of Trump illustrates how much the new American president is both shaking his country's sense of identity and reshaping its image elsewhere.

Consider some luminaries on the left. Slavoj Zizek, the oft-quoted Slovenian Marxist philosopher, cynically suggested he would prefer Trump over Hillary Clinton because Trump's victory would trigger a crisis that could reboot the left in America.

"In this situation in which we are now, only some kind of a shakeup can save us," Zizek told Al-Jazeera before the election. "And one good thing about Donald Trump — and it's an obscenity to call this a good thing — is that he put [the system] into great disarray."

When not cast as an agent of chaos, Trump is proving to be a useful foil for those eager to show that the United States is a superpower with no moral standing, an empire with no clothes.

Amid a spike in tensions between the regime in Tehran and the White House, Iran's supreme leader invoked Trump's executive order as an example of American perfidy and hypocrisy.

"We actually thank this new president! We thank him, because he made it easier for us to reveal the real face of the United States,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a speech on Tuesday, referring to Trump's attempt to slap an immigration ban on seven Muslim-majority countries. "Now, with everything he is doing — handcuffing a child as young as 5 at an airport — he is showing the reality of American human rights."

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told his military that President Trump has shown the "real face of the United States," according to his website, and that Trump "confirmed what we have been saying for more than 30 years" about "corruption in the U.S." government. (Reuters)

It's always a bit ironic when a regime as morally dubious as Iran's attempts to lecture another government on its conduct. But Trump indirectly seemed to agree over the weekend, when he rejected the characterization of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "killer." His riposte — "You think our country's so innocent?" — sent the Washington establishment into fits.

On a certain level, Trump is right. The United States, like any major power, is hardly "innocent." The American left has long pointed to the country's history of injustice and inequity at home and dangerous meddling and militarist aggression overseas. But now you have a Republican administration that almost casts its lot with such critics, abandoning any pretense of being the good guy.

Not surprisingly, there has been plenty of hand-wringing from both conservatives and liberals over how Trump's "nativism could be the death knell for American exceptionalism," as my colleague Dan Drezner put it. The point was brutally hammered home by this past week's cover of German magazine Der Spiegel.

"For the U.S. establishment, Trump poses a threat to Brand America. It is longstanding bipartisan U.S. ruling class doctrine that the United States is the world’s great beacon and agent of democracy, human rights, justice, and freedom," crowed a columnist in the leftist publication CounterPunch. "American reality has never matched the doctrine, and it didn’t under Obama, of course, but it is especially difficult to credibly align those claims with ... a president like Trump."

But Trump does have his own brand. Trump's nationalism carries with it an explicit rejection of the moral posturing of earlier administrations. Two academics tracking Trump's speeches have found that words like "freedom," "liberty," "rights" and even "public" appear far less in his rhetoric than in the language of past presidents. "Failing to pay even lip service to that commitment is a notable departure," they argue.

Former president Barack Obama celebrated his country's capacity for integration and inclusion — a story that carries with it a history of struggle and hideous violence, but that also is the story of how someone like Obama, the child of a Kenyan father and Kansan mother, could get elected to high office. Trump, in his demonization of foreigners and hostility to immigration, is flipping the script.

"For Obama, what made America exceptional was its ability to foster a national identity that transcended tribe and sect," wrote the Atlantic's Peter Beinart. "And for Trump? Making America exceptional again requires abandoning that as a dangerous dream."

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